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Checking out Intuit's stealth invoice manager

Intuit has a FreshBooks and Zoho Invoice competitor. Who knew?

After I wrote up Zoho Invoice (review), I got a call from Intuit, makers of QuickBooks (which Zoho may integrate with some day). They had news for me: Intuit has a free Web-based invoicing app too: Intuit Billing Manager. And it's been out since September.

Well, slap me silly. For some reason Intuit hasn't publicized this neat little app. But my Zoho writeup got under their skin, and they called to give me a demo.

I found Intuit Billing Manager a strong invoicer for the very small business. Getting started takes very little time, and it shows you the info you need when you need it. For example, the moment you begin creating an invoice, it pops up the outstanding balance from your client, so you have a good picture of what you're dealing with.

Intuit Billing Manager is simple, like the other good online invoice managers.

The app sends your clients basic text e-mails (unlike Zoho, which sends nice PDFs), but it also includes a link to an invoice page where clients can see a nicely formatted invoice, pay their bill, or set a reminder if they don't want to at the moment.

The best feature of Billing Manager is that it accepts credit-card payments. You'll have to sign up for QuickBooks Merchant Service and pay $9.95 a month plus 2.9 percent of each invoice payment charged, but the integration with the Billing Manager invoices is very strong. You can also accept credit-card payments over the phone based on your invoices, and the app will send your clients nice e-mail receipts.

Customers get a simple invoice in their e-mail, plus a link to a personal Web page where they can pay their bill or set a reminder.

Downsides include somewhat poky response when you click "send" after creating an invoice, and no support for PayPal payments.

Intuit makes money from this free product in two ways: Primarily, it pushes users to sign up for the fee-based credit-card payment system. Second, Billing Manager is a gateway drug for Intuit's more fully featured QuickBooks Online Edition. Not the Quickbooks software itself, though. As Intuit group product manager Heather Kirkby says, "The person choosing Billing Manager is choosing the Web."

For many small businesses, the tightly focused Billing Manager app will be all they need. Intuit's presence in the small business market, not to mention the company's implied promise of a smooth upgrade path to other QuickBooks services, will make this app the first choice for small businesses looking for an upgrade from tracking invoices on a spreadsheet or on paper.

See also: Blinksale, Simplybill, Freshbooks, Netbooks.